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Monsieur Mangin The French Humbug

One of the most original, unique, and successful humbugs of the present

day was the late Monsieur Mangin, the blacklead pencil maker of Paris.

Few persons who have visited the French capital within the last ten or

twelve years can have failed to have seen him, and once seen he was not

to be forgotten. While passing through the public streets, there was

nothing in his personal appearance to distinguish him from any ordinary

gentlemen. He drove a pair of bay horses, attached to an open carriage

with two seats, the back one always occupied by his valet. Sometimes he

would take up his stand in the Champs Elysees; at other times, near the

column in the Place Vendome; but usually he was seen in the afternoon in

the Place de la Bastille, or the Place de la Madeleine. On Sundays, his

favorite locality was the Place de la Bourse. Mangin was a well-formed,

stately-looking individual, with a most self-satisfied countenance,

which seemed to say: "I am master here; and all that my auditors have to

do is, to listen and obey." Arriving at his destined stopping-place, his

carriage halted. His servant handed him a case from which he took

several large portraits of himself, which he hung prominently upon the

sides of his carriage, and also placed in front of him a vase filled

with medals bearing his likeness on one side and a description of his

pencils on the other. He then leisurely commenced a change of costume.

His round hat was displaced by a magnificent burnished helmet, mounted

with rich plumes of various brilliant colors. His overcoat was laid

aside, and he donned in its stead a costly velvet tunic with gold

fringes. He then drew a pair of polished steel gauntlets upon his hands,

covered his breast with a brilliant cuirass, and placed a richly-mounted

sword at his side. His servant watched him closely, and upon receiving a

sign from his master, he too put on his official costume, which

consisted of a velvet robe and a helmet. The servant then struck up a

tune on the richly-toned organ which always formed a part of Mangin's

outfit. The grotesque appearance of these individuals, and the music,

soon drew together an admiring crowd.

Then the great charlatan stood upon his feet. His manner was calm,

dignified, imposing, indeed almost solemn, for his face was as serious

as that of the chief mourner at a funeral. His sharp, intelligent eye

scrutinized the throng which was pressing around his carriage, until it

rested apparently upon some particular individual, when he gave a start;

then, with a dark, angry expression, as if the sight was repulsive, he

abruptly dropped the visor of his helmet and thus covered his face from

the gaze of the anxious crowd. This bit of coquetry produced the desired

effect in whetting the appetite of the multitude, who were impatiently

waiting to hear him speak. When he had carried this kind of by-play as

far as he thought the audience would bear it, he raised his hand, and

his servant understanding the sign, stopped the organ. Mangin then rang

a small bell, stepped forward to the front of the carriage, gave a

slight cough indicative of a preparation to speak, opened his mouth, but

instantly giving a more fearful start and assuming a more sudden frown

than before, he took his seat as if quite overcome by some unpleasant

object which his eyes had rested upon. Thus far he had not spoken a

word. At last the prelude ended, and the comedy commenced. Stepping

forward again to the front of his carriage where all the gaping crowd

could catch every word, he exclaimed:

"Gentlemen, you look astonished! You seem to wonder and ask yourselves

who is this modern Quixote. What mean this costume of by-gone

centuries--this golden chariot--these richly caparisoned steeds? What is

the name and purpose of this curious knight-errant? Gentlemen, I will

condescend to answer your queries. I am Monsieur Mangin, the great

charlatan of France! Yes, gentlemen, I am a charlatan--a mountebank; it

is my profession, not from choice, but from necessity. You, gentlemen,

created that necessity! You would not patronize true, unpretending,

honest merit, but you are attracted by my glittering casque, my sweeping

crest, my waving plumes. You are captivated by din and glitter, and

therein lies my strength. Years ago, I hired a modest shop in the Rue

Rivoli, but I could not sell pencils enough to pay my rent, whereas, by

assuming this disguise--it is nothing else--I have succeeded in

attracting general attention, and in selling literally millions of my

pencils; and I assure you there is at this moment scarcely an artist in

France or in Great Britain who don't know that I manufacture by far the

best blacklead pencils ever seen."

And this assertion was indeed true. His pencils were everywhere

acknowledged to be superior to any other.

While he was thus addressing his audience, he would take a blank card,

and with one of his pencils would pretend to be drawing the portrait of

some man standing near him; then showing his picture to the crowd, it

proved to be the head of a donkey, which, of course, produced roars of


"There, do you see what wonderful pencils these are? Did you ever behold

a more striking likeness?"

A hearty laugh would be sure to follow, and then he would exclaim: "Now

who will have the first pencil--only five sous." One would buy, and then

another; a third and a fourth would follow; and with the delivery of

each pencil he would rattle off a string of witticisms which kept his

patrons in capital good-humor; and frequently he would sell from two

hundred to five hundred pencils in immediate succession. Then he would

drop down in his carriage for a few minutes and wipe the perspiration

from his face, while his servant played another overture on the organ.

This gave his purchasers a chance to withdraw, and afforded a good

opportunity for a fresh audience to congregate. Then would follow a

repetition of his previous sales, and in this way he would continue for

hours. To those disposed to have a souvenir of the great humbug he

would sell six pencils, a medal and a photograph of himself for a franc

(twenty cents.) After taking a rest he would commence a new speech.

"When I was modestly dressed, like any of my hearers, I was half

starved. Punch and his bells would attract crowds, but my good pencils

attracted nobody. I imitated Punch and his bells, and now I have two

hundred depots in Paris. I dine at the best cafes, drink the best wine,

live on the best of everything, while my defamers get poor and lank, as

they deserve to be. Who are my defamers? Envious swindlers! Men who try

to ape me, but are too stupid and too dishonest to succeed. They

endeavor to attract notice as mountebanks, and then foist upon the

public worthless trash, and hope thus to succeed. Ah! defamers of mine,

you are fools as well as knaves. Fools, to think that any man can

succeed by systematically and persistently cheating the public. Knaves,

for desiring the public's money without giving them an equivalent. I am

an honest man. I have no bad habits; and I now declare, if any trader,

inventor, manufacturer, or philanthropist will show me better pencils

than mine, I will give him 1,000f.--no, not to him, for I abhor

betting--but to the poor of the Thirty-first Arrondissement, where I


Mangin's harangues were always accompanied by a peculiar play of feature

and of voice, and with unique and original gestures, which seemed to

excite and captivate his audience.

About seven years ago, I met him in one of the principal restaurants in

the Palais Royale. A mutual friend introduced me.

"Ah!" said he, "Monsieur Barnum, I am delighted to see you. I have read

your book with infinite satisfaction. It has been published here in

numerous editions. I see you have the right idea of things. Your motto

is a good one--'we study to please.' I have much wanted to visit

America; but I cannot speak English, so I must remain in my dear belle


I remarked that I had often seen him in public, and bought his pencils.

"Aha! you never saw better pencils. You know I could never maintain my

reputation if I sold poor pencils. But sacre bleu, my miserable

would-be imitators do not know our grand secret. First, attract the

public by din and tinsel, by brilliant sky-rockets and Bengola lights,

then give them as much as possible for their money."

"You are very happy," I replied, "in your manner of attracting the

public. Your costume is elegant, your chariot is superb, and your valet

and music are sure to draw."

"Thank you for your compliment, Mr. B., but I have not forgotten your

Buffalo-hunt, your Mermaid, nor your Woolly Horse. They were a good

offset to my rich helmet and sword, my burnished gauntlets and gaudy

cuirass. Both are intended as advertisements of something genuine, and

both answer the purpose."

After comparing notes in this way for an hour, we parted, and his last

words were:

"Mr. B., I have got a grand humbug in my head, which I shall put in

practice within a year, and it shall double the sale of my pencils.

Don't ask me what it is, but within one year you shall see it for

yourself, and you shall acknowledge Monsieur Mangin knows something of

human nature. My idea is magnifique, but it is one grand secret."

I confess my curiosity was somewhat excited, and I hoped that Monsieur

Mangin would "add another wrinkle to my horns." But, poor fellow! within

four months after I bade him adieu, the Paris newspapers announced his

sudden death. They added that he had left two hundred thousand francs,

which he had given in his will to charitable objects. The announcement

was copied into nearly all the papers on the Continent and in Great

Britain, for almost everybody had seen or heard of the eccentric pencil


His death caused many an honest sigh, and his absence seemed to cast a

gloom over several of his favorite halting-places. The Parisians really

loved him, and were proud of his genius.

"Well," people in Paris would remark, "Mangin was a clever fellow. He

was shrewd, and possessed a thorough knowledge of the world. He was a

gentleman and a man of intelligence, extremely agreeable and witty. His

habits were good; he was charitable. He never cheated anybody. He always

sold a good article, and no person who purchased from him had cause to


I confess I felt somewhat chagrined that the Monsieur had thus suddenly

taken "French leave" without imparting to me the "grand secret" by which

he was to double the sales of his pencils. But I had not long to mourn

on that account; for after Monsieur Mangin had been for six months--as

they say of John Brown--"mouldering in his grave" judge of the

astonishment and delight of all Paris at his reappearance in his native

city in precisely the same costume and carriage as formerly, and

heralded by the same servant and organ that had always attended him. It

now turned out that Monsieur Mangin had lived in the most rigid

seclusion for half a year, and that the extensively-circulated

announcements of his sudden death had been made by himself, merely as

an "advertising dodge" to bring him still more into notice, and give the

public something to talk about. I met Mangin in Paris soon after this


"Aha, Monsieur Barnum!" he exclaimed, "did I not tell you I had a new

humbug that would double the sales of my pencils? I assure you my sales

are more than quadrupled, and it is sometimes impossible to have them

manufactured fast enough to supply the demand. You Yankees are very

clever, but by gar, none of you have discovered you should live all the

better if you would die for six months. It took Mangin to teach you


The patronizing air with which he made this speech, slapping me at the

same time familiarly upon the back, showed him in his true character of

egotist. Although good-natured and social to a degree, he was really one

of the most self-conceited men I ever met.

Monsieur Mangin died the present year, and it is said that his heirs

received more than half a million of francs as the fruit of his

eccentric labors.

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